The name “Mystic” is derived from the Indian word “MissiTuk” or “great tidal river,” a reference to the Mystic having once been tidal. For hundreds of years, Native Americans lived and fished along the Mystic. One of the Mystic area’s first European settlers was Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop. He built his summer retreat, the Ten Hills Farm, on the banks of the Mystic.
Both Native Americans, and later Colonists, used weirs to catch alewives and fertilize their crops. During the 1800s, factories replaced many farms, and the region attracted many new residents. By 1865, overfishing and pollution all but eliminated commercial fishing.
Shipbuilding on the Mystic dates from earliest Colonial times and peaked in the 1840s. Schooners and sloops transported timber, molasses for rum distilleries, and other products, along the trade route between Medford and the West Indies. Later, railroads and then a system of roadways replaced the River as a transportation route.
In 1631, the first ship built by Europeans in Massachusetts, the “Blessing of the Bay,” launched from the shores of the Mystic River. During the 19th century, 10 shipyards along the Mystic River built more than 500 clipper ships.
From early Colonial days until the end of the 19th century, the waters of the Mystic were harnessed to power tide mills. Tide mills were built throughout the length of the Mystic on both sides of the shore. Their waterpower was used to grind grain and spices, saw wood, and process paints, cloth and other products. Mills, brickyards and tanneries along the river brought wealth, but some industries also polluted the Mystic watershed. Today, a mix of houses, businesses, parks and abandoned factories border the River.
Twice each day, tides once influenced the waters of the Mystic, Malden, and Alewife Brook. First the Craddock Locks, 1909, and later, the Amelia Earhart Dam, 1966, changed these waterbodies from salt to freshwater. In the 1960s, construction of I-93 filled in wetlands and dramatically changed the Mystic River’s course.
US LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HISTORIC MAPS
The Livingston County, Michigan US Genealogy Project has a 1895 map of Middlesex County (2MB).
Also check out these links from other organizations:
General history on the Friends of the Mystic River page.
Canal History at the Middlesex Canal Association.
HISTORY OF MYSTIC RIVER COMMUNITIES
"The Tinkham Brother's Tide-Mill", a recently republished 1882 novel by J.T. Trowbridge that takes place at a tide mill on the Mystic River--when saltwater reached Mystic Lakes.
Chapman, H.S., History of Winchester, Volume I, Published by the town of Winchester, Massachusetts, 1975, pp. 208, 286, 297.
Stone, B.W., History of Winchester, Volume II, published by the town of Winchester, Massachusetts, 1975, pp. 152-153.
Seaburg, Carl and Alan. Medford on the Mystic. Self-published: 1980.
Woburn Daily Times, Woburn, Massachusetts, September 24, 1920.
Woburn Guide and Directory, Woburn, Massachusetts, Vol. 7, 1960-1961.
Woburn Guide and Directory, Woburn, Massachusetts, Vol. 8, 1961-1962.
Woburn Guide and Directory, Woburn, Massachusetts, Vol. 22, March, 1977.